(Continuation from Monday of a random and unexpected act of kindness . . . )
Yesterday I shared the story of the European trip two friends and I took in 1976. That posting emphasized the kindness of Evelyn, a friend I met when teaching in Dayton, Ohio. Accompanying us on that trip was Paullene Caraher. She and I had been in the convent together.
Paullene, on the right, and Evelyn in Amsterdam.
In 1963, Paullene and I taught together in Kansas City, Kansas, and became good friends. By 1968, both of us had left the convent, but remained friends. Thus it was that she visited me during Thanksgiving vacation in Claremont, New Hampshire, where I was teaching 268 juniors during the 1972-73 school year.
The year was being difficult. In 2011, I posted three stories about how the Claremont students and I clashed for the first three months. If you’d like to read those stories, click here. And here. And here.
While Paullene and I prepared Thanksgiving dinner, the russet potatoes unexpectedly boiled over. The ring of fire beneath the stainless steel pan flared high, fingering a dishtowel I’d foolish left on the range. The flaming cloth reached upward toward the framed picture on the wall.
Even as Paullene began calmly to search for baking soda to smother the flames, I panicked. “We’ll burn the building down!” I shouted.
Grabbing another towel, I swiped the flames. The second towel caught fire in my hand. Dropping it on the floor, I stomped the flames. Then I ran to the window, threw it open, and tossed the tattered cloth outside.
Frantically racing back and forth, I bumped into the kitchen table, the counter, the windowsill. Now the smell of gas filled the kitchen. “It’s gas,” I shouted at Paullene. “We’ll die!”
All the while she quietly and efficiently smothered the flame, turned off the gas, and cleaned the dark smudges from the stovetop.
Halting my frantic activity, I watched her. My breath slowed; the panic subsided. Silently, I slide down the wall to the floor and began to sob.
It was then that Paullene said, “Dee, what’s wrong?”
I just shook my head. I didn’t know. The students seemed to despise me. The teachers seldom spoke to me. Life had become unbearable.
“Dee,” Paullene continued, “you haven’t smiled once since I came. You haven’t laughed.”
I continued crying.
“That’s not like you,” Pauline said as she sat down on the floor next to me. “Not like you at all. You’ve always been able—even in the convent—to see humor in everything. What’s happened?”
Haltingly, I told her about coming to Claremont. About how confused I was. Lonely. Muddled.
Paullene wrapped her arms round me and rocked me back and forth, crooning, “It’s going to be alright. We’ll get help for you. We’ll find you a psychiatrist to talk to.”
Biting my lower lip I moaned, “I don’t know how to get a psychiatrist. I just don’t know.” I felt helpless. Totally unprepared for survival.
“We’ll find help tomorrow,” Paullene assured me. “Now let’s mash those potatoes and have supper.”
That night I slept as if dead. When I woke, Paullene had news for me. She’d called Dartmouth College. “I made an appointment for you with a woman psychiatrist there,” she said. “She’ll see you on Monday at 4:00.”
The Latin motto for Dartmouth translates to
“a voice crying out of the wilderness.”
I stared at her, amazed. She made it all seem so easy. School would be out at 3:30 and I could drive to Hanover in a half hour. It was all so uncomplicated. She’d unmuddled my muddle.
“You’re going to be alright, Dee,” Paullene said. “You’ll smile again.”
I must have looked doubtful for she said, “Trust me. You will.”
And I did.
And even now my heart smiles in remembrance of her kindness when I wandered in the desert of my own despair. When she arrived in Claremont I was lost. With her great good sense and her own steadfastness she rescued me. Such is the strength of a caring friend.
( . . . to be continued on Wednesday
with a Random Act of Kindness
at Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery.)